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These Common Symptoms Could Be Signs You Have a Thyroid Condition

Nestled in the front of your neck, between your voice box (larynx) and your windpipe (trachea), is a small gland about two inches wide and one inch tall. It has two lobes connected by a thin bridge, so it’s shaped like a butterfly. It’s called the thyroid and its job is to produce certain hormones. 

Those hormones help manage a lot of your body’s functions. In fact, your thyroid affects just about every system in your body. It helps convert carbohydrates into energy, breaks down fats for fuel and builds and repairs muscle.

Your thyroid sends hormones through your bloodstream to all your body’s cells, where they help control the speed at which your cells use energy (metabolism). When your thyroid produces more hormones, your body burns more calories and your metabolism is higher. When your thyroid produces fewer hormones, your body doesn’t burn as many calories and your metabolism is slower.

Grishma Sheth, MD, an endocrinologist with Banner – University Medicine, explained more about problems that can happen with your thyroid and symptoms you might have if it is not working properly.

Thyroid problems

You can develop these issues with your thyroid:

  • Hyperthyroidism: Your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. It can be caused by Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, toxic multinodular goiter or thyroid nodules. 
  • Hypothyroidism: Your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. It can be caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, postpartum thyroiditis or iodine deficiency. 
  • Goiter: This is an enlarged thyroid gland. It can be caused by hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, inflammation or tumors.
  • Thyroid nodules: These are lumps in the thyroid gland. They can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
  • Thyroid cancer: This is a relatively rare yet treatable type of cancer.

“Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the most common thyroid conditions,” Dr. Sheth said. Both conditions are more common in women than in men.

Symptoms of thyroid problems

The symptoms of thyroid problems can overlap and could also be caused by other conditions. So if you have any symptoms that might point to a thyroid condition, you’ll want to see a health care provider for diagnosis. 

If you have a thyroid disorder, you might notice:

  • Weight loss (hyperthyroidism) or weight gain (hypothyroidism)
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • Bowel movement changes
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bulging eyes
  • Goiter (a noticeable bulge in the neck)
  • Skin issues

What to do if you have symptoms

These symptoms could point to various thyroid conditions or other conditions, so it’s important to see a health care provider for a diagnosis. 

Thyroid problems can be serious, but they are usually treatable. Treatment is important, though. Untreated, they could lead to complications like heart disease, stroke, infertility and miscarriage.

When you see your provider, they will most likely:

  • Ask you about your symptoms and medical history. Openly share what you’ve noticed and your concerns. Tell your provider when your symptoms started, how often you have them and how severe they are.
  • Perform a physical exam and feel your neck for an enlarged thyroid. 
  • Order blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. “Thyroid problems are diagnosed via a blood test which measures thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH),” Dr. Sheth said. Blood tests are the most reliable way to diagnose thyroid problems.

Depending on your condition, your provider will recommend treatment. “Typically, you’ll need medication to replace your thyroid hormone if it is low. If it is overactive, a different medication can be used, or possibly radioactive iodine and/or surgery,” Dr. Sheth said.

If you’re taking medication to treat a thyroid condition, your doctor should check your blood regularly to make sure your thyroid levels are where they should be. If your levels are too high, you could be at risk of heart problems or bone issues.

You can help keep your thyroid healthy with many of the same strategies that are good for the rest of your body:

  • Choose a balanced diet centered around vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein.
  • Get regular exercise or physical activity.
  • Get plenty of restorative sleep.
  • Manage stress with deep breathing, relaxation exercises, mindfulness or meditation.

The bottom line

Your thyroid is a small gland in the front of your neck that releases hormones that impact nearly every part of your body. You can have symptoms when the thyroid releases too much or not enough hormones, or you could have other problems with your thyroid.

You can have a lot of different symptoms with thyroid conditions, from weight changes to fatigue to heart rate increases or decreases. These symptoms could also be caused by something else. So it’s important to see a health care provider if you have any symptoms that could point to a thyroid condition.

If you would like to connect with an endocrinologist or another health care provider to talk about your thyroid concerns, reach out to Banner Health.

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